County ends contract with appraisal firm for not meeting expectations

Kosciusko County Courthouse.
By David Slone

WARSAW — Kosciusko County Assessor Gail Chapman requested the county commissioners end a contract with Lexur Appraisal Services after the company failed to live up to expectations.

Chapman explained to the commissioners, “Darby Davis headed up our commercial-industrial (assessment) department for about 28 years. She retired, and in ’22, that department was turned over to two other ladies to head it up. In the middle of 2022, the one lady retired and the other lady determined that it was too stressful of a job and she did not want to do it.”

At that point, the assessor’s office had to look to contracting the services out for the commercial-industrial part of the office’s work. In September 2022, a contract was signed with Lexur Appraisal Services – now part of Vision Government Solutions – to do the majority of the assessor’s office commercial-industrial work.

“I found out that, at the beginning of the year … that they were not exactly transparent with me on the person they chose to do our field work,” Chapman said.

“It took me three months before someone finally admitted to me that she had no idea how to do data entry on our INcama system, which is one of the critical aspects of our work for everything we do.”

Chapman attempted to get the woman training, but had no way of accomplishing that. “Our XSoft vendor (is) in direct competition with (Vision), which I did not realize that either until part way through the year,” she said.

Vision Government Solutions is a company based out of Ohio with about 300 employees that is trying to edge its way into Indiana and become a competitor with XSoft, who the county has used for more than 10 years, Chapman said.

“So, when I realized that no work was getting done, I contacted the vice president of Lexur and he immediately released the lady that was doing our work and assigned a gentleman that is four hours away in southern Indiana. So, in the middle of all of this in October, he had all the work to catch up on, which was all of our commercial reassessment, and pretty much all of our building permit construction work. So, that work started and, basically, – I’m going to say it as politely and respectfully as I can – nobody can accomplish that much work in the amount of time that it was done,” Chapman said.

She started reviewing the work and seeing what had been done. She found that million-dollar buildings had not been picked up and buildings that were assessed on the wrong parcel.
“At that point in time, I decided that was the end of my desire to work with this company. They’re not giving us the product that they promised. They’re not giving me the quality of work that I expect as the assessor and that our office has always given to this county,” she said.

Chapman proposed that the commissioners end the contract with Lexur at the end of this year. It is a three-year contract, but there is a clause in the contract that allows either party to end the contract at any time for any reason.

The cost of the contract is $57,800 for year one; $59,500 for year two; and $61,300 for year three. This is the first year of the contract, and Chapman said after the meeting that she’s paid Lexur $50,000 so far this year.

Explaining her second proposal to the commissioners, Chapman said, “With training, I have a lady in my office (Jennifer Spyres) who has offered to head up our commercial-industrial department.” Spyres has worked in the assessor’s office going on six years, so Chapman said Spyres is well-versed with all of the assessor’s office operations and how the work is done. “She would need additional training to basically learn the ins and outs of going out and picking up new construction, the questions to ask, what to look for. And then data entry on new commercial, and then the trending portion, which is probably the most critical part of our work.”

She asked the commissioners to allow her to move the assessor’s office commercial-industrial work back into the office at the start of 2024 with training. “I will bring that proposal to you next month on what that’s going to entail,” Chapman said.

Commissioner Cary Groninger asked Chapman if Spyres would be up to speed to start in January. Chapman replied that she’s already started and the office has been working on it for a while “because we’ve known most of the year that we were going to have problems.”

Chapman said there’s still commercial work that they will have to go out and pick up because it was not done. Spyres is already working on it.

“But I believe that, to do it, to know all the ins and outs of how to pick up commercial, I believe that’s going to require, I’m going to say at least a year of training. And the trending portion absolutely has to require training,” she said.

Groninger said he loved bringing it back in-house, but was concerned about getting it up to speed to meet all the deadlines and goals without some sort of third-party supplemental help.

“I know these are tough decisions that nobody likes to make to end a contract and end a relationship with an organization, but these are critical to the tax revenues of Kosciusko County, so we’ve got to right the ship,” he said.

Chapman said trending has to start by January in order to get done by March 1. There are state deadlines that have to be met, they can’t be late and she said they never have been. The trending will have to start immediately after Christmas in order it to be completed by the deadline.

Groninger asked if there were funds budgeted for the additional training. Chapman said in 2024, the budget has about $80,000 for contractual services, which might cover the training portion but not the employee’s salary to move to supervisor of the commercial department.

Groninger made a motion to end the contract with Lexur and let Chapman move commercial-industrial assessment back in-house. The motion passed 3-0.

Commissioner Brad Jackson told Chapman if she sees it’s not working to come back to the commissioners and they’ll work to get it done.

“My opinion is that the best way to control quality and the output is to have it in-office. We don’t have anyone at this point who can answer questions for taxpayers on commercial. It just needs to come back in-office where we can control it,” she said.